Trojans 48, War Eagles 7
Difference maker: Imani Cross and his offensive line. The line opened up huge running lanes to help Cross put Chestatee away early.
Stat that matters: Cross ran for 240 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. He finished with 280 yards in the game to go with his three scores.
Turning point: After stopping Chestatee on fourth down and goal, Cross ran 85 yards for a score on the second play of the ensuing possession to put the Trojans in front 21-0.
Who’s next: North Hall plays at White County on Friday; Chestatee will host Stephens County, also on Friday.
Leading 14-0 but backed up deep in its own territory late in the first quarter, North Hall made a big stop on fourth down inside the 10-yard line to take the ball away on downs from visiting Chestatee.
Two plays later, running back Imani Cross put the game out of reach.
Taking a handoff, Cross ran left around the outside, waited until his blockers made a lane and burst into the secondary. Leaving the defenders behind, Cross ran 85 yards for a touchdown to put North Hall ahead 21-0, a lead it would not relinquish.
The Trojans (2-3, 1-0 8-AAA North) went on to win the game 48-7 over their rivals to open subregion play at The Brickyard on Friday.
Behind a strong offensive line, senior Cross ran 16 times for 280 yards and three touchdowns. In addition to his 85-yarder, Cross also tallied touchdown runs of 38 and 46 yards. All three scores came in the first half.
“Coming in I felt pretty good,” Cross said. “Coach preached to us all week to work on execution, and my offensive line gave me great lanes to run through tonight. The success tonight is owed to them.”
Trojan coach Bob Christmas also attributed a lot of the success to the offensive line.
“Those running backs will be the first to tell you that a lot of their success was owed to the offensive line,” he said. “Those guys did a great job of opening up some running lanes all game long.”
Cross got the game started with a 38-yard touchdown less than four minutes into the game.
On the drive, North Hall moved the ball steadily on the ground with Cross and running back Caleb Faulkner exchanging carries and picking up modest yardage. On the seventh play, however, Cross busted through the line, carrying the ball 38 yards into the end zone to give the Trojans the lead.
Faulkner added a touchdown run of his own on the next drive, a 7-yard run after Cross ran the ball 28 yards.
Faulkner finished with 120 yards rushing, 36 yards receiving and three touchdowns. One of his touchdowns came through the air, a 5-yard pass from Bradley Brown in the fourth quarter. He also scored on a 6-yard run in the third.
“Imani’s a great running back,” Christmas said. “And Caleb Faulkner showed he can run the football, too. Those guys just did a great job, and I’m really proud of them.”
Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell commented after the game on the difficulty of defending a player like Cross.
“He’s obviously a great player,” Luttrell said. “I don’t think Tennessee would have offered him a scholarship if he wasn’t.”
While North Hall is predominantly a running team, and it certainly showed that on Friday, Brown did finish with two touchdown passes, one to Faulkner and the other on a 25-yard catch and run by Eli Gilmer. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 70 yards in the game.
Christmas was particularly happy with the performance of his defense, which had struggled in three early losses this season. The unit gave up just one touchdown and had a number of defenders around the ball on every play.
“I think those guys have really improved,” Christmas said. “They’ve been working hard this week, and last week, too, and I really think they’re playing a lot better.”
Chestatee (3-2, 0-1 8-AAA North) fell behind Cross and North Hall early and were dealt another blow when quarterback Jordan Degraff left the game with an ankle injury late in the first quarter. Degraff did not return to the game, and Luttrell said they had not yet been updated on his status.
Quarterback Wyatt Burgess replaced Degraff and was 7 of 19 for 84 yards and two interceptions through the air.
The War Eagles’ lone touchdown came on a 68-yard touchdown run by running back Quan Clark in the third quarter. Running back Montrai Tate, who missed Chestatee’s game last Friday due to an injury, sat out again. Luttrell said he hopes to have all his players back to full strength by next week.